Food security in Latin America and the Caribbean is built on four fundamental pillars: the availability of food, access to it, its quality (safe products with good nutritional content), and stability (the ability to obtain food all the time).
In terms of the first pillar, the region has great potential and does not have large limiting factors. It has a vast supply of natural resources, formidable human talent, and available land for expanding its agricultural frontier. These are clearly comparative benefits that agriculture can take advantage of.
In the other areas, however, the panorama is less clear and there is more work to do. Access to food is a concern for millions of people, a problem that has to do with inequitable income distribution. The situation is particularly critical in rural areas, where agriculture is a way of life that employs most of the 121 million rural inhabitants, about 21 percent of the total population of Latin America and the Caribbean.
The quality of food also merits attention. Farmers need to change some of their production practices, and governments have a role to play to in educating people about the importance of good nutrition.
Work on these issues is already mandatory because of rapid population growth and a demand that is outpacing supply, but climate change has made it even more urgent as it destabilizes agricultural production, aggravates difficulties in rural areas, and endangers the population's food security now and in the future.
This is just one part of the context in which the 42nd General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) will be held in Cochabamba, Bolivia, June 3-5 this year, under the central theme "Food Security with Sovereignty."
The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) believes that the answer to the challenges mentioned above can come from a sector that is often neglected: family agriculture and small to medium-scale farming. This sector has a great deal to offer in the effort to increase production and access to quality foods in Latin America and the Caribbean. To fully engage producers at this level, however, countries must promote changes that start at a micro level providing technical and commercial incentives to producer groups like rural women and youth. Those changes must be complemented with larger reforms like the design of short and long-term macroeconomic and sectoral policies.
The importance of supporting these producers is even...